Press release 23rd Mar 2022

Transparency International UK welcomes inclusion of PPE Procurement in the COVID-19 Inquiry Terms of Reference

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Track and Trace


The COVID-19 pandemic has required a rapid public health response on a scale and speed unseen in modern times. Whilst those procuring goods and services have sought to expedite the emergency response, we observe a pattern of behaviour whereby critical safeguards for protecting the public purse have been thrown aside without adequate justification.

Emerging evidence from investigative journalists, the National Audit Office (NAO) and public interest litigation highlights these in startling detail.

Using evidence from these reports and analysis of available data, we identify two key issues concerning procurement practices during the pandemic. We also identify a third, more general issue relating to the mechanisms for ensuring integrity in public office.

From these findings, we propose ten steps that could address some of the concerns raised over the last year, and help avoid similar mistakes being repeated in the future. None of these are particularly costly, with three either complementing or endorsing proposals already included in the UK Government’s Green Paper for reform. If implemented effectively, they have the potential to increase transparency, deliver greater accountability, and reduce the risks associated with contracting, both during a crisis and in normal times.

We hope this provides a critical, yet constructive contribution towards recent debates. Some of what we propose may be uncomfortable for those of which we ask it – subjecting oneself to greater scrutiny is seldom a natural imperative for those in public office – yet these steps are critical to setting the record straight.

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March 23, 2022 - Scrutiny of the government’s procurement practices and support for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic will help deliver much-needed transparency and accountability over how billions of pounds in public funds were spent, Transparency International UK said today.

The recently published draft terms of reference for the inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic include examining “the procurement and distribution of key equipment and supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators” and “support for businesses and jobs, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, loans schemes, business rates relief and grants”.

Transparency International UK has previously raised concerns about these elements of the pandemic response.

In April 2021 we warned that 20 percent of the COVID-related contracts awarded between February and November 2020, worth more than £3.7billion, raised one or more red flags for possible corruption. Our Track and Trace report highlighted how the way the government handled bids for supplying personal PPE and other COVID-19 response contracts appeared partisan and systemically biased in favour of those with political access.

As of September 2021, £2.8 billion worth of PPE was deemed not fit for purpose. Of this total, £1 billion was supplied by companies given preferential treatment after being recommended by MPs, peers and senior civil servants as part of the ‘VIP lane’.

We have also highlighted the risks of fraud associated with government support schemes, writing to the Chancellor alongside Spotlight on Corruption and the Fraud Advisory Panel to express our concern in July 2020. Treasury minister Lord Agnew resigned from his post earlier this year in protest at the lack of government action taken to address the scale of COVID-19 loan fraud, which stands in the billions.


Daniel Bruce, Chief Executive of Transparency International UK, said:

“With too many questions still remaining around procurement and business support decisions during the pandemic, we welcome the inclusion of these issues in the draft terms of reference for the COVID-19 inquiry. In the two years since UK’s pandemic response began, billions of pounds have seemingly been wasted on unusable PPE while billions more have been pocketed by fraudsters. We hope that the inquiry will now deliver much-needed transparency and meaningful accountability for the way in which huge amounts of public money were spent. We stand ready to draw on our extensive research to support its work.”


Notes to editors:

More information on the COVID-19 public inquiry can be found here -